We tend to think of the ‘unemployment rate’ as in single figures (it’s currently 7.6%) but in actual fact this masks a much higher real figure – those described as ‘economically inactive’. As an average across the UK among adults of working age (these days defined as 16-64, both genders) for every ten people in the UK, seven are working and three aren’t. Or put another way, almost a third of the working-age population do nothing productive for the economy. With just over 5% of the working-age group disabled, that leaves a quarter of Britons doing nothing for some other reason beyond physical or mental incapacity.
The truly disturbing part involves adding to these numbers the total employed by the public sector, quangos and the Government. Opinions vary on this, but few realists put the figure below 38%. Subtracting these from the 16-64 universe turns the situation on its head: under a third are doing work that makes Britons money at any given time. (Even among those in private sector jobs, one in ten are doing drudge unassociated with production – just over 10% of the workforce are in these so-called ‘elementary occupations’).
Now factor in all those working in the domestic distribution, retail, construction and banking sectors – ie, occupations where almost 100% of their activity is nothing to do with exports of either goods or services. It leaves us with an estimate (nowhere to be found in any Government stats I came across) of 18% employed largely or solely in exports….just one in five of us.
Of course, outside of the lunatic asylum formerly known as banking, it helps with the exporting thing if you’re actually making something. Endless sneering articles in the Guardian refute the ‘myth’ of falling manufacturing output, but they are wrong: in 1978 there were 6.9 million people employed in UK manufacturing; today the figure is 2.6 million. Regardless of whether outsourcing has changed the reliability of that number, the vast majority of objective folks roughly halfway between Jeremy Clarkson and Will Hutton are prepared to accept that genuine UK manufacturing has declined by around 60%.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is the best source for all of this sort of information. While the true picture of those (a) doing anything useful and (b) closely connected to earning UK plc money is hidden by Governments of every hue, the ONS can usually tell you what’s actually happening at the sharp end beyond the limits of Westminster and Whitehall.
Today it updates the regional figures on real employment rates by area of Britain; the figures are nothing new….but they do underline how cock-eyed dependency-based social policy has made our economic balance by geography as much as age and occupation.
In the familiarly depressed areas where Labour has reigned since Ramsay MacDonald was a boy – places like Durham, Nottingham, Liverpool, Glasgow and Newham – around 40% of people are unemployed. Most of Wales is in a similar state. But even in the Tory shires of Hampshire and Wiltshire, we’re still looking at one in five of all the workforce being economically inactive.
How much of that inactivity is down to disablement? Well here, the figures really are rather telling. In well-heeled Conservative Hampshire, 91.2% of the disabled have a job. In Tory Rutland the figure is 81.2%. But in Newham, that figure is just 27.1%. In Haringey, it’s 24.6%. In Burnley, it’s 26.9%. Any of these names strike you as familiar?
Yes, quite: are we really being asked to believe that disabled people who live in deprived areas are less inclined genetically to do a job than physically challenged Tories? Because if so, that really would be bigoted 19th century high-Toryism of the daftest kind.
No: the far more obvious and likely explanation is that the services available to help disabled people find gainful employment (and thus more life-fulfilment) tend to exist in Tory controlled regions: this is an issue of local policy, not some fictitious layabout gene.
While it might be as well to remember these facts the next time some derisive fluffy collars you over a supper somewhere, the data I’ve covered in this piece also show how important the Slog’s persistent cry for a massive restructuring of industrial focus is.
Who knows, with 25% less people pushing forms around and 50% more people merchandising our export potential, we might even double our exports – once we can get the quality, innovation and prices back to where they were in the 1950s. That is largely a question of educational change and retraining: a much bigger issue, and one for another day.